Call for national debate on decriminalising drugs

Community groups, health researchers, and academics are calling for a national debate on drug laws.

It comes as Ireland prepares its position on drug prohibition ahead of a special session on the issue by the UN General Assembly in early 2016.

The move for a debate on decriminalisation and legalisation is being led by Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign — an umbrella organisation of community groups, both in Dublin and beyond.

The campaign, launched at a conference yesterday, was backed by health experts and criminologists in the Health Research Board (HRB) and by the Irish Penal Reform Trust.

“A lot of concerns are being raised on the ground on the impact of criminalisation on users,” Anna Quigley, chairwoman of Citywide said.

“Questions are being raised: Why criminalise someone for using a drug, when really it is a health issue and that we’d be better directing resources to the health end, that we should be looking at decriminalisation.”

She said there have also been calls for legalisation of drugs because of the problems associated with the illegal drugs market, including violence and intimidation.

She said the two issues were very different and decriminalisation would be the “least contentious”.

Ms Quigley said there were also strong views we should not legalise as Ireland has not managed its legal drugs well, particularly alcohol and prescription drugs.

Brigid Pike of the HRB said the “taboo” on the debate had been laid down by the UN conventions prohibiting drug use.

But she said there have been calls in the last four years for a review of the laws, including from Latin America and Britain. Most recently the UN General Assembly agreed to a special session in early 2016.

“The question is how is Ireland going to participate in 2016, who is preparing that, how open and public is the debate going to be?”

Liam Herrick of the Irish Penal Reform Trust said that drug offenders accounted for 20% of the prison population, compared to 11-12% in 2005.

In addition, they accounted for half of those serving sentences between three and 10 years.

He said a sample survey they conducted of those sentenced for the sale or supply of drugs over €13,000 found that fewer than one in eight were in a senior position in the drugs trade.

He called for that law to be repealed. Short of that, he said the €13,000 valuation should be increased and that judges should be given the right to distinguish between offenders depending on their role in the trade.

Johnny Connolly of the HRB said there was little evidence that supply control measures had a lasting impact, but said there was some evidence they contained the problem.

He said he was not an advocate of legalisation as the evidence did not support it. He said it ran counter to society’s measures in relation to tobacco and alcohol. He said the test should be its impact on those communities most affected by drugs.


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